Friday, 1 July 2016

Beyond Compere!

A kind of live human jukebox...
There are many things that come together to make a gig. Obviously you need musicians and a venue, and a crowd normally helps! I would also argue that a sound engineer is pretty essential – just ask Concrete Mountain (see last blog ‘Bellows, Books, Lamps and Dolls’)! The atmosphere of the venue, the craft of the musicians and the interaction with the audience all have a bearing on a gig. There is however one oft-forgotten element that can make a real difference and that is the MC…..

At so many gigs I go to, the artists wander on stage and start unannounced almost apologetic in their opening bars, catching the audience unaware, forcing them to leave conversations hanging in the air! Why can’t a venue see that having an MC is not a luxury but a real part of staging a gig. This is especially true in smaller venues where the stage is not necessarily the focal point, and there are none of the usual triggers that inform the audience that a gig is about to start! Often at smaller gigs people are sat around tables talking, and it can be much more of a social occasion, unlike standing in front of a stage with one aim in mind, to wait for the act to come on…

A good MC will draw the crowd together from their disparate conversations, bring the solo gig goers into the fold and focus the audience on what is about to happen. Once focused, the MC then has the task to energise those who have gathered, so that once the band is introduced to the crowd, they are already cheering and up for the gig. It is not right to assume that just because people have bought a ticket or have bothered to turn up to a gig that they will be focused on the music. Too often the gig becomes the background for a night out, a kind of live human jukebox; it becomes the sideshow, rather than the main event. A good MC will ensure that doesn’t happen. Where the musicians take it after that is up to them!

Too many venues fail to realise the importance of an MC, but there are also those that fail to realise the importance of a good MC! A monotone voice delivering hesitating sentences does not communicate with the audience, and although it might announce the arrival of the band on stage it does not set the tone for the gig. When I go round to a friend’s house I want to be greeted with warm tones and excitement otherwise I will fear I am not welcome! So it is with a gig. 

The Jaywalkers are introduced by a monotone MC and, as a result, half-hearted applause. As they begin their set it is obvious to them and to us that the sound is not right. The fiddle is so low in the mix that it is in danger of becoming lost. It is not a good beginning to the gig and it appears to be threatening to unsettle the band. Various different solutions to the problem are tried as the band continue through the first half of their set. The fiddle should be cutting through the sound and demanding our attention but it is mainly heard in the audience through the foldback monitors and so much is lost.

In the applause the band relax... 
As the mandolin player announces that a few weeks ago he broke a finger and that he wasn’t even sure that he was going to be able to play this gig you sense this is a make or break song! The lack of a decent introduction, poor sound, and now a mandolin instrumental that might prove too much for the finger of its player! Luckily, it proves to be the making of the gig. The instrumental is wonderful and the crowd erupts. In the applause the band relax into the rest of the gig. How much easier it is for artists when they feel the crowd is on their side. Every sound difficulty can be faced. This is why a good MC, building up the crowd, is so important because it makes the band believe that the audience is with them, and that, of course, has a direct effect on their performance.

As the first half continues the band really begin to shine. The interval offers a more concentrated opportunity to solve the fiddle problem, and as the second half starts the band and audience pick up from where we left off at the end of the first half. 

The Jaywalkers are a great young UK band who effortlessly combine British folk with Bluegrass! Traditional Lancashire folktales are set to the evocative mix of mandolin, bass and fiddle and are brilliantly performed by masters of their instruments. The result is endearing and engaging and the crowd respond enthusiastically after each song. 

The importance of staging a gig properly... 
At the end of the set the MC reappears and informs us in the same monotonous voice that, “they were really great and we will try to get them back, meanwhile we have some more wonderful performances coming up!” Oh please! Sound as if you think they really were great, thank us for coming, and encourage us to come again with energy in your voice!

In spite of the MC and in spite of the sound problems, The Jaywalkers triumphed today and I look forward to seeing them when they have neither of these problems.

As for MCs and venues, I urge promoters to recognize the importance of staging a gig properly. Please, find an MC who understands the role and can be part of lifting the concert from being just another musical happening to being the special event that every gig should be. Find not just a Compere but a master of the art, in other words a Master of Ceremonies!

Gig: 44 of 50
Date of Gig: Fri. 22nd January 2016

Southbank Centre

The Jaywalkers

Running total of artists seen 91

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